This could have gone wrong in so many ways—and boasting one of the lamest titles in living memory is only the beginning—that it’s a joy to announce that Greg Motolla’s Paul gets far more right than wrong. Oh, sure, there are a few weak points, and there’s little doubt that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s signature director Edgar Wright would have made a more stylish film from the same material and ratcheted up the pace a bit, but that mightn’t have been for the best in this case. This is a slightly different proposition, and while the results aren’t always wildly funny, they’re invariably pleasant and entertaining—with moments that are as funny as Wright at his best.
For those who don’t know, Paul is the story of a pair of British comic book/sci-fi geeks, Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), who—fresh from Comic-Con—are making a pilgrimage in a rented RV through that part of the American West that might be called “the UFO belt,” taking in every alien-oriented tourist trap they come across and buying up its assorted ephemera. Much to their surprise, a car comes careening past them and crashes—and out of the wreckage emerges a cynical, razor-tongued, foul-mouthed alien (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has accepted the earth name of Paul that was stuck on him by a little girl when he first crashed on earth. (Apparently, his flying saucer skills were no better than his driving ones.)
While Clive sensibly faints dead away, Graeme, less sensibly, allows Paul to talk him into assisting him in escaping from government scientists who want to dissect him, now that they’ve gotten all the good out of him they can as a living being. So begins a much wilder journey than our geek heroes ever imagined, something that sits less well with Clive than might be expected—in large part because he’s jealous of Graeme’s immediate friendship with Paul. Naturally, the government—in the form of Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and his two none-too-bright henchmen, Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio, Superbad), all of whom are under orders from the unseen “Big Guy”—is on their trail, so they duck into the Pearly Gates RV Park, run by Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch, Shutter Island) and his daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig), a pair of hardcore fundamentalist Christians.
Things get complicated when Ruth (in the coolest ever anti-Darwin t-shirt) sees Paul and mistakes him for Satan. Naturally, the trio kidnap her, alter her religious worldview (she’s delighted by the prospect of drinking, swearing and having “a lot” of intercourse), and thus end up with her father after them as well. Of course, things become even more dicey and dangerous on the film’s way to its big ending, which actually is pretty big for a change.
As noted, it’s not perfect, but it is consistently fun. Within its R rated confines, it’s also rather a sweet film, which is standard for Pegg and Frost—and Mottola, for that matter. Even the handling of the gay subtext between the Pegg and Frost characters is—as such things have been in their previous work—refreshingly free of even a trace of homosexual panic and stock gay jokes. In itself, that’s reason enough to see Paul, but there’s a lot more to like here. Rated R for language including sexual reference and some drug use.